03 July 2012

Rain, reading, and reflections

Raining again today...  We have had heavily overcast skies with a few showers each day for the past several days -- a welcome relief from the heat for me as baby takes his sweet time coming, and certainly a welcome drink for the lush foliage greening up all over town.

Grey, rainy days have always made me want to curl up with a book and spend hours reading.  While that's not terribly practical with a house to keep up, dinner to make, and all of the daily chores to attend to, being stuck sitting on the couch with my feet up for hours on end has provided an unexpected opportunity to fit in some extra reading as I wait for baby to arrive.

My husband and siblings will all tell you that I read abnormally quickly.  They firmly believe that if I wanted to, I could sit down one morning with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and have the entire thing finished by the time I went to bed.  I think this is a slight exaggeration, but I did make it through quite a bit of reading material yesterday afternoon:  After finishing the last 175 pages of a book I'd been working on, I went through another two 150-page books, realized that we didn't have any other books in the house which I had not yet read, and picked up the first volume of the encyclopaedia.  The goal now is to see how far I can get through the 23-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica before baby arrives.  (To be fair, I will be skipping some topics: our set was published in 1973, and some things have changed to the point where it just isn't worth reading such an outdated article.)

I made it through the article on Acacia last night, and it is remarkable how many interesting little bits of information I've already come across.  It was enlightening to read about the abortion debate in the words of doctors contemporary to the Roe v. Wade decision.  The article on the patriarch Abraham brought back vivid imagery from my college biblical archaeology class.  The thing which sticks out most in my mind just now, though, may seem odd: the article on Abgar V, king of Osroene in Mesopotamia.

Abgar V lived from 4 BC to 50 AD, and was afflicted with leprosy.  According to the Roman historian Eusebius, Abgar learned of Jesus' miracles and wrote to him, asking him to journey to Osroene's capital city of Edessa and cure his leprosy.  Jesus, Eusebius says, wrote back and promised to send one of His disciples once His earthly ministry was complete.  It was an interesting story, one I had never heard before, but I went on to the next article (Abhdisho bar Berikha, a Nestorian bishop) without too much thought.

Today being the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, I picked up a book of saints' stories this morning before going back to my encyclopaedia.  As I was reading about the legends/traditions we have concerning his later life, I was startled to notice that his relics were venerated at Edessa beginning in the early 200s.  Had Thomas actually gone to Abgar V after the Ascension?

Further reading of Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica relates that St. Thomas did not visit Edessa himself, but sent seventy-two disciples, under the leadership of Thaddeus of Edessa, to Abgar V.  This assertion is questioned by other historical sources such as Adolph von Harnack,* but in either event, it seems to be widely accepted that St. Thomas' relics were moved to Edessa from Mylapore, India, around 232 AD.

We don't know with certainty, then, whether the story of Abgar V actually took place as described by Eusebius or not.  It provided a good several hours' worth of research and reflection, though, which is more than I expected to get out of a one-paragraph article in a nearly forty-year-old encyclopaedia!  We will have to see what other interesting facts and ideas I stumble across as I continue reading.

*von Harnack, Adolph (1905). The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries. Williams & Norgate. pp. 293. "there is no doubt that even before AD 190 Christianity had spread vigorously within Edessa and its surroundings and that (shortly after 201 or even earlier?) the royal house joined the church."

No comments:

Post a Comment